Thursday, 28 August 2008

Western Australia politics and a Queensland coal union

In Western Australia, Premier Alan Carpenter has promised to initiate legislation to ban the mining of Uranium if reelected. He is reported to have claimed that "most of the world is moving away from nuclear power".

That claim is not supported by:
  1. The ongoing nuclear expansion programme within the UK,
  2. Italy's recent vote to reintroduce nuclear power following a complete rejection of the technology in the years immediately following the Chernobyl accident,
  3. Reports of statements from German Chancellor Angela Merkel signaling the potential reversal of their nuclear phase-out policy,
  4. A dozen license applications within the past year in the USA (and countless approvals and applications for licensing renewals / extensions at currently operating facilities there),
  5. Several expansion announcements over the past two years from China - signalling repeated acceleration of their nuclear power development programme,
  6. Sweden's serious considerations to reverse its phase-out policy as well as notable public support for the spent fuel repository,
  7. Argentina's resumption of a stalled nuclear construction project and their efforts to partner with Brazil to further develop nuclear power capacity,
  8. Serious interest in currently non-nuclear countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates to name a few,
  9. A recent tender for a new reactor in Slovakia,
  10. Increasing interest in Canada, South Korea as well as other countries.

The proposed legislation has been criticised by WA business groups as well as traditional owners.

Also in the news is a report that the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union will soon launch an ad campaign with the slogan, "Nuclear power will kill the coal industry."

This claim seems highly unlikely.

First, in this radio interview [hat tip to Luke Weston], Dr. Ziggy Switkowski clarifies that it is not reasonable to expect Australia to have its first nuclear reactor until shortly after 2020. [However, Macarthur Coal Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Nicole Hollows recently predicted 10 years.]

Also, most believe nuclear's potential role represents only a portion of Australia's total electricity generation capability and that with efficiency, conservation, wind, solar, geothermal and considerable development in carbon capture technology, our carbon emissions can be brought under control. As Ziggy Switkowski says, "This is not a zero sum gain".

Finally, the WNN article claims the union is fishing for support of a $1.5 Billion investment in clean coal currently being advocated by Labor and that raising the nuclear spectre will help keep Labor in power. This claim is supported by quotes from this article in the Business Spectator.

1 reactor in 10 to 15 years with up to another 24 in the 30 years that follow does not appear to be an industry breaking development. Particularly when one considers that most [nearly 2/3] of Australia's coal is exported. [According to Nationmaster, Australia's annual coal production is 338 million tonnes and our consumption is 131 million tonnes. Coal exports are expected to remain secure or increase into the foreseeable future.

Uranium mining in Queensland would tighten the labour market which would tend to increase wages.

With respect to the coal power generation industry, transition from a coal station to a nuclear station is not difficult for most skills. Operators, maintenance craft/trade workers and plant administrative staff perform very similar functions. ADD too this the need for licensing, documentation and security staff as well as greater technical/professional expertise to maintain critical systems to what is commonly regarded as 'nuclear grade', and it becomes apparent that a local nuclear plant provides more employment opportunities than a similarly sized fossil station.


  1. It was Alan Carpenter who brought coal fired power stations out of retirement after the gas pipeline explosion. The new owners of the Kintyre uranium deposit ($550m?) must be hoping for his speedy political demise.

    Coal mining is widespread and underpins many rural towns. This is why Premiers Carpenter, Bligh and Brumby can't countenance severe coal cutbacks, holding out for geosequestration to quickly come good or the ETS to be emasculated. My SA informants tell me Rann is a closet nuclear supporter but is towing the States' line for now.

    On the question of coal exports it has been suggested China could soon take all Australia has to give and more. This makes a mockery of the domestic carbon cap.

  2. The issue is Global Warming, for Australia Thorium is probably the best Nuclear option. Uranium demand is increasing and to combat Green House Gases especially in countries like China we must provide them with Uranium, otherwise they will just burn more coal!!
    In saying that by using Thorium Furnaces we can deal with Nuclear Waste much more effeciently.


  3. There's plenty of market in steel-making for a reasonable amount of high-quality coal. That won't change soon, so the coal industry may be reduced but won't be eliminated. In any case, as our antinuclear friends never tire of telling us, building nuclear power takes time, especially building from nothing. So reductions in the coal industry can be done without massive disruption.

    I wonder how Carpenter would deal with the concept of a multi-mineral mine like Olympic Dam. Could the owners mine everything else but be required to ignore the uranium, leaving it in the tailings?

  4. When people scoff at my assertions that fossil fuel competitors - especially those that sell or transport coal - have a natural desire to slow or stop nuclear power, they often make statements like - but there will still be a market for some coal for a long period of time.

    What is missing from that logic is the natural desire of all businesses - and most individuals - to make as much money as possible. If a company is selling a million tons of coal per day, they certainly would not be happy to 900,000 tons per day next year and 800,000 tons per day the year after that. In most businesses, such a trend would quickly result in operating losses.

    It is also important to understand the market mechanisms in scarcity driven markets like fossil fuel. Sometimes the scarcity is only perception, but there has to be some thought by the customer that no one else is willing and ready to sell at a lower price before they will make a purchase.

    If there was a growing and vibrant nuclear fission alternative, how successful do you think the coal companies would be at locking in long term contracts at advantageous prices compared to how they would succeed if that prospect is no where to be found?

  5. Thanks for your comment Rod.

    I agree.

    I would be delighted for world coal production and consumption to just level off or even slow down. Sadly, despite the emotive warnings of the coal industry, any slow downs or reductions seem to be some far off fantasy.

    But these reductions (among other things) are exactly what we are told must happen of significant climate related strife is to be avoided.

    Reconciliation of the two will not be easy. It will certainly – as you say – go against the grain of human nature and some very well entrenched values and lifestyles.

  6. Hello all!!! You know guys The process of mining in Queensland is the biggest industry. This is through distant the very most beneficial industry as well as produce the lions involvement of exporting earning for the countryside once include by means of resources mining business such that lubricates and gas.

  7. Mining coal has long been perceived as the ‘engine room’ of Queensland’s economy and exploitation of our great mineral wealth is supported by Governments of all persuasions. Now, I like using moles because when CO2 is produced by combining O2 with C, the total number of moles in the atmosphere is unchanged

  8. I heard about the Queensland coal union, This is nice actually because every work that is big can be done in the union and in that case Western Australia politics is nice.

  9. I think I understand what you're saying, but Australia's coal (coking coal) will remain in demand for the global steel industry. So the coal mining industry has an out to save many domestic jobs - even when thermal coal demand takes a nose dive; which it must unless CCS comes to fruition.

    But in the end, it's a matter of the greater good. i.e. I also feel sorry for people in the tobacco industry, but will always lend my support for campaigns to end or eliminate smoking anywhere and everywhere.